DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee Andrea McArdle

By Andrew Gans
December 14, 2012

News, views and reviews about the women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.



Andrea McArdle, whose booming, crystal-clear rendition of the Annie anthem "Tomorrow" brought her overnight fame in the original Broadway production of that Tony-winning musical, is currently enjoying a jam-packed schedule. In January the Broadway belter will return to the new Manhattan nightspot 54 Below for concerts Jan. 17-19. It is at 54 Below where McArdle will record new tracks for "70s and Sunny: Live at 54 Below," the first of her two upcoming recordings for the Broadway Records label. The second CD, "Calendar Dreams," which will team McArdle with an array of award-winning theatre composers, charts a year's journey in a woman's life month by month. And, McArdle has also signed on for two productions of the classic Jerry Herman musical Mame. She will play the eccentric Mame April 17-May, 2013, at Pennsylvania's Media Theatre for the Performing Arts and, subsequently, for three weeks at The Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to chat with the Tony-nominated singing actress while she was appearing in the acclaimed Off-Broadway musical revue NEWSical the Musical, a rare comedic outing for the star who said the experience, thanks to producer Tom D'Angora, "was a blast. And, I'm nuts for the people in that show." McArdle reminisced about Annie, Les Misérables and also spoke about her upcoming recordings.

Question: Having been identified with Annie for so many years, what does the show mean to you?
McArdle: I had a real sense of pride just watching [the revival], and it's so funny because even before [Lilla Crawford] opens her mouth to sing "Tomorrow," it's like she's a rock star. It's so interesting because when we did it, people were discovering it and it was brand-new. But now, it's become like Americana, and it's nostalgic. It's loved like Sound of Music is, and so, for me, there's a huge sense of pride because it's part of my legacy that will never go away. And, maybe we have another production of it that really kind of hits big. I'm so willing to pass the torch on because I haven't been able to be that forever and ever, and so hopefully this will help people move on, and I'll get to do my next chapter of great roles.

Question: You've sung "Tomorrow" so many times over the years, and it's such an optimistic song. Has that song ever gotten you through something in your own life?

McArdle and the original Sandy
photo by Martha Swope

McArdle: You know, I can see what it does to people when I sing it, so I've made my peace a long time ago, and it's a great song. It's a hard song. I mean, it's a great song, and it's my song. No matter who plays that role, it will forever be my song. And, I'm proud of that…[although] it was a little hard to accept when you're 13 and you're "adolescing." [Laughs.] You don't understand… Carol Channing was the one who really shed some light on that for me when we did Jerry's Girls because I was talking to a few of the leggy—the hot Jerry's Girls ensemble—and they were like, "You must be so sick of that song," and I was like, "Yeah, I'm really sick of it." And, she pulled me over in the way that only Carol would, and she was like, "Andrea! When [Jerry's Girls co-star] Leslie [Uggams] goes on the Tony Awards, what kind of music are they going to play when she walks on?" And, I said, "I don't know," and she goes, "Exactly." [Laughs.] She kind of said, "That's your song and don't ever let me hear you dissing it ever again." And, it really did put it into perspective for me. It's yours. Cherish it. Respect it. Treasure it… At this point, I think it's cool. Before it was a little hard for me to take because it's hard to be known for something you couldn't be a year after you did it. So that's a little odd, and the sad thing for people like me and [late Annie co-star] Laurie Beechman and the people who were hot then was that American Broadway was dead—where were the vehicles? … I mean, if the British invasion hadn't come in, Broadway was dead. In the late 80s, it was just dead. They didn't fund the writers, and it was just a weird time—that's when corporate Broadway merged. We used to have the same 13 guys producing everything, and we all knew each other. And, we could all fit into Tavern on the Green—everybody. But now it's huge [with] American Express and Universal Entertainment… It's a totally different ballgame now. It's weird because I was so young, but I was so aware—even at 13. You're so aware of the infrastructure of our little genre—our little Broadway thing. It was like dancing on the head of a pin, but it's a very different game now, and it's a much bigger business...

Question: You also played Miss Hannigan a couple times regionally. What was that like for you?
McArdle: The first time I did it, I was directed by the great Casey Hushion down at North Carolina Theatre. I had no idea the minute I heard that French horn at the beginning of the show—I'm totally cool about it, and I'm not a big mushy person like that—[but] the minute I heard those chords and heard the kids doing that thing, it was incredibly emotional, so it was very hard for me to do that role because it felt like an out-of-body experience the first time. But then I went to L.A. almost immediately after, and I did probably some of my best work. I did a really great interpretation… You can't forget Dorothy Loudon, and I also learned everything [from her]. [Laughs.] I got to watch her eight times a week, so I learned a whole lot from her. I felt I was really good in the role, [and] I got really terrific reviews… They wouldn't see me for the role [on Broadway], which kind of annoyed me.

McArdle as Miss Hannigan
Photo by Mitch Danforth

Question: That's so strange. I wonder why they wouldn't see you.
McArdle: I think maybe they felt it would draw attention away from the new [Annie]. Who knows why? But, I still think they're just crazy not to have me have a go at it. [Laughs.]

Question: Did you stay in touch with Dorothy Loudon throughout the years?
McArdle: Yes. We used to see each other, and Lionel Larner, her agent. Dorothy was very, very private. We would do something like "Live at Carnegie Hall," and we would sit together and talk and laugh about funny things that happened because a lot of funny things happened. [Laughs.] I mean, we were the guinea pigs, but she was that missing ingredient in the show, and all the other people that did the role—you hated them—and with her, you loved to hate her. That was the most delicious thing… No one will ever touch that.

Question: You also have two new CDs coming out.
McArdle: I do. I'm really excited. My "Live at 54 Below" is going to be coming out a few weeks later because I'm back at 54 in January, and we're actually redoing the live version. The album that I'm really excited about is called "Calendar Dream," which is an anagram for my name, and my friend Scott Logsdon, we worked together on Les Misérables in the original production, it's his concept. It's basically a song a month. [Brian] Yorkey and [Tom] Kitt write the year overview song, and then [Alan] Menken and David Zippel write January, and then I think I have Amanda Green for February, and then March we have Carol Hall, and April I believe it's Henry Krieger. I mean, the names are just staggering. It's all original stuff—all about a woman starting a new chapter of her life.

Question: How did that come about—getting all these composers together?
McArdle: This was my friend Scott Logsdon's concept, and so I said, "These people aren't going to write me an original tune!" And, now I think we even have John Kander signing on for December. I can't really say for sure, but we're 99 percent there. And, Maury Yeston, and Menken and [Tim] Rice—they wrote me this incredible song for August called "August Frame of Mind." And, these are just amazing [composers]! I mean, each song, I'm pretty floored that we got this response, and everybody basically said yes.

Question: Is there a chance you might stage the album? It sounds like it could be a song cycle.
McArdle: Absolutely, yeah. My vision is that we have really beautiful fashion photography—very artsy—each month… Not like a Vargas girl, but in that style—very editorialized, beautiful photos behind. I see this with a symphony and everything. I think there are a lot of possibilities.

Question: Who realized the anagram, or is that something you've known for a long time?
McArdle: No, that's my friend Scott, who was up late at night. [Laughs.] And, he had these anagrams on his [computer]. He put his family's names in, and then he was like, "Oh, let me put Andrea's in," and the first one that came up, it said, "Calendar Dream." He was like, "Ding! Ding!"

Question: That's pretty amazing that your name spells that.
McArdle: It spells a lot of other weird ones, too, but that was the very first one that came up, and he was like, "That's it. We're doing it."

Question: I know in the press materials for the recording it mentions you being newly single. I wonder what that's been like for you.
McArdle: It's been wonderful. I mean, I was married from the time I was 24. I didn't feel like a baby then, but when I think of it now, I have a 24-year-old now, and she's a baby to me still… We had a terrific run—almost a quarter of a century. I call that a good run, even out of show business.

McArdle in Blood Brothers.
Photo by Toni Morgan

Question: What is your daughter up to these days?
McArdle: She's actually been sidelined for about a year-and-a-half now. It's been really tough on her. She'd been in a car accident with her boyfriend… This is her third surgery. She's going in the Hospital for Special Surgery… She has to go in and get this ketamine treatment, where they basically shut your whole nervous system down to try to reboot it, so she can't dance or anything… It's been really tough. She's been writing and recording, but she can't do anything. She did Blood Brothers with me down in Florida, and she was terrific and wants to be doing roles in Elf or Bring It On—she's right for all that stuff, but she can't. She's in profound pain, so it's been really tough…

Question: …With the Les Miz film coming up, I wanted to talk about your experience in the musical since you played both Eponine and Fantine.
McArdle: Well, I did Fantine for a year in the Broadway production—like '93-'94—and I kept begging Cameron [Mackintosh]. [Laughs.] He was like, "You ought to be very happy that I gave you Fantine. Any post-Annie could have played Eponine." He was like, "I did you a favor." I was like, "I know! But I really want to play Eponine so badly." [Laughs.] So I kept bugging him and bugging him, and when they knew it was going to sit down in Philadelphia, and Laurie Beechman's hometown is Philly and mine, and we did our first show—Annie, of course—together, they borrowed [my daughter] Alexis from the New York company and let her come into the Philly company [as Cosette] and let the other kid go to Broadway, and they were happy… I guess it was 16 weeks or something like that. It sat down in Philly, and we did it over Christmas, which was amazing, so I finally got to do Eponine. And, that's my daughter's favorite role. Other than Elphaba, Eponine was [her] dream role. She got very close. She was down to like the last three girls in the revival that Celia [Keenan-Bolger] did, but she was only 17.

Question: Are you looking forward to seeing the film? What are your thoughts?
McArdle: I'll be there on Christmas Day—forget it! And, I mean, just the stuff I've seen with Anne Hathaway, she just breaks your heart. I can't wait!

McArdle as Fantine

Question: Having played both those roles, which one did you end up preferring?
McArdle: I was more suited for Eponine, but by the time I got to play Eponine—I would have rather played Eponine at like 28. I think I was 33. It's such a hard call. I will say that Fantine is more beautiful. It's a tossup. It really is. I really couldn't even decide. But I do think that "I Dreamed a Dream" is probably a better song, as far as just beautiful, but I just loved playing Eponine.

Question: You're also going to be doing Mame
McArdle: I am, yes. In Media and the Bucks County Playhouse.

Question: Have you ever done that part before?
McArdle: I haven't, but I think it's going to be a really, really good fit. I was actually booked to do Hello, Dolly! on a 30-city tour, and then they called me really late in the game and said, "Oh, no, we've cancelled it, and we're using Sally Struthers." I was like, "Okay. Andrea or Sally? There's a very big difference!" [Laughs.] I've seen her do that role, and she's fantastic in the role… I think I'm actually much better suited for Mame than Hello, Dolly! at this point. Maybe Dolly could be like 10 years away, but I'm reading the Patrick Dennis book right now, and I can't put it down.

Question: What's your dream role to do on Broadway—other than something new, of course?
McArdle: Two roles I really, really want to do are… Next to Normal and Sweeney Todd—those are two that I can think of off the top of my head.

Question: Both amazing shows.
McArdle: I think what's so nice about theatre is the best roles for women are for women over 50, which is really an inspiration because you don't find that on TV so much. I'm really wanting to do some straight drama, and I really want to do some television and maybe some film, too, because it just keeps you resilient—different beasts, so to speak. But nothing is more fun than doing a musical. Nothing.

[54 Below is located at 254 West 54th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue). For more information and tickets, visit 54Below.com.]

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Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.